Category Archives: af-PAK

Reagan and the Afghan Resistance

From the archives – while researching for Wounds, we came across this Reagan dedication of the space shuttle, Columbia, to the Afghan resistance. Enjoy!

Tagged , , , , ,

I. Notes on the Pakistan cables

These are my notes, thoughts, musings on the cables related to Afghanistan and Pakistan. These notes refer to these cables:

1. Govt abandoned Swat. “Kayani was candid that the government has essentially abandoned the Swat valley.” -Biden’s meeting w. Kayani Secret, US Embassy, Islamabad, Feb 06, 2009. And that is exactly what those who opposed the Swat operation were saying from the start, and has been clear for a long time now.

2. Does he or doesn’t he? “Biden asked if Kayani made a distinction between the Pashtuns and the Taliban. Kayani replied that the Taliban were a reality, but the Afghan government dominated by the Taliban had had a negative effect on Pakistan.” -Biden’s meeting w. Kayani Secret, US Embassy, Islamabad, Feb 06, 2009. Important to know particularly as it concerns what happened in Fata and Swat.

3. Military funding. Senator Biden said the system of reimbursement through Coalition Support Funds would be reexamined. Kayani said that the military had only received about $300 million of the $1 billion ostensibly reimbursed for military expenses. He was not implying that the money had been stolen, but had been used for general budget support.” -Biden’s meeting w. Kayani Secret, US Embassy, Islamabad, Feb 06, 2009.

4. American knowledge of murders by the Pakistani Army. “A growing body of evidence is lending credence to allegations of human rights abuses by Pakistan security forces…The crux of the problem appears to center on the treatment of terrorists detained in battlefield operations and have focused on the extra-judicial killing of some detainees. The detainees involved were in the custody of Frontier Corps or Pakistan Army units.” -Human rights abuses by the PK Army Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 10. 2009. Why presume that the ones being detained and killed are, in fact, terrorists? As with drones, there is a presumption that if you have been killed, you must have been a terrorist. Witch hunt anyone?

5. The ‘guilt’ of the forcibly disappeared. “The allegations of extra-judicial killings generally do not/not extend to what are locally referred to as “the disappeared” — high-value terrorist suspects and domestic insurgents who are being held incommunicado by Pakistani intelligence agencies…” -Human rights abuses by the PK Army Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 10. 2009. Again, the presumption that those missing are guilty.

6. Orientalist logic as explanation for Army murders. “Revenge for terrorist attacks on Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps personnel is believed to be one of the primary motivating factors for the extra-judicial killings. Cultural traditions place a strong importance on such revenge killings, which are seen as key to maintaining a unit’s honor.” -Human rights abuses by the PK Army Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 10. 2009.

7. They have to kill because the courts don’t work. “Senior military commanders have equally and repeatedly stressed their concerns that the court’s are incapable of dealing with many of those detained on the battlefield and their fears that if detainees are handed over to the courts and formally charged, they will be released,…This fear is well-founded as both Anti-Terrorism Courts and the appellate judiciary have a poor track record of dealing with suspects detained in combat operations such as the Red Mosque operation in Islamabad…Post assesses that the lack of viable prosecution and punishment options available to the Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps is a contributing factor in allowing extra-judicial killings and other human rights abuses of detained terrorist combatants to proceed.” -Human rights abuses by the PK Army Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 10. 2009.

8. Number of detainees. “There may be as many as 5000 such terrorist detainees currently in the custody of the Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps from operations in Malakand, Bajaur, and Mohmand.” -Human rights abuses by the PK Army Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 10. 2009.

9. The solution to PK Army murders? Legalise the state of exception. “To the Defense Minister propose assistance in drafting a new Presidential Order that would create a parallel administrative track for charging and sentencing terrorists detained by the military in combat operations.” -Human rights abuses by the PK Army Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 10. 2009. But, it’s very interesting to see that legal regimes matter, however oddly. I would shy away from viewing this simply as a legal “cover”; it is that, but why does the US feel the need to create a legal cover in the first place?

10. Verbiage. Why does Anne Patterson use the antiquated “Pakhtoon” rather than the more common “Pashtun” in her cables? -Will more aid persuade the PK Army to cut its ties with extremists? Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 23, 2009

11. What the PK Army may do in case of US withdrawal from Afghanistan. “General Kayani has been utterly frank about Pakistan’s position on this. In such a scenario, the Pakistan establishment will dramatically increase support for Taliban groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which they see either as ultimately likely to take over the Afghan government or at least an important counter-weight to an Indian-controlled Northern Alliance.” -Will more aid persuade the PK Army to cut its ties with extremists? Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 23, 2009

12. Follow the money? The Pakistani establishment, as we saw in 1998 with the nuclear test, does not view assistance — even sizable assistance to their own entities — as a trade-off for national security vis-a-vis India.” -Will more aid persuade the PK Army to cut its ties with extremists? Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 23, 2009

13. Afghanistan: Does the Army want it stable or unstable? “Afghan instability by definition leads the Pakistani establishment to increase support for the Taliban and thereby, unintentionally, create space for al-Qaeda. No amount of money will sever that link.” -Will more aid persuade the PK Army to cut its ties with extremists? Secret/Noforn, US Embassy, Islamabad, Sept 23, 2009

Tagged , , , ,

Ahmadis are Muslim

and it’s called a MOSQUE. Ninety-three people have died thus far; at least have the courage to be straightforward now: They were Muslims. Their died in their mosques.

III. War in a New York minute

I am not the only one. I received this via email from an incisive friend who’s agreed to let me put it up. Hopefully, s/he will be writing more often. As the ‘experts’ sound the drum to expand the global war into North Waziristan, those who question the war and the shoddy un-knowledge on which it turns are being shut down and pushed out of public discourse. The papers would have you believe otherwise, but there are those who reject this war, and we are not the only ones. So, without further ado, here are some sharp observations about the war narrative building up around Pakistan from the Underground Man:

To say that the pro-war narrative in Pakistan is exasperating is to put it mildly. Some days the op-eds in the English dailies are worse than the others, but it increasingly seems that we have collectively shut down all avenues for a discourse against the war. I’m going to point out just three examples of the kind of dialogue we are consuming on a daily basis that subtly informs our opinions and in the end perpetuates the myth of an honourable, necessary war.

  1. Firstly, the short comments on Foreign Policy by Af-Pak (why can’t we retire that term already?) Channel’s experts on Faisal Shahzad, (the person alleged to have been behind NYC Times Square failed bombing plot) have been irritatingly ignorant, to say the least. For example, this comment written by Saba Imtiaz notes that:

Pakistan is lucky that the United States after 9/11 and India after Mumbai did not bomb the country into oblivion.

O RLY! How awfully lucky is Pakistan to have thus far avoided a full-scale war, shielded itself from US’ imperialist designs and nearly escaped an escalation in bombs and drone attacks from within…. oh wait. All of that did happen. So given this logic, a singular terrorist attack warrants bombing the country of the bomber’s origin into oblivion. Any other response is a tad generous on the victim country’s part.

But at some point, some country that is the target of an attack by a terrorist group that was trained in or received support from Pakistan will react.

I can’t imagine what that would look like, but Af-Pak Channel experts would surmise that it would be wholly justifiable given the case of Faisal Shahzad. Moving on:

Jumping into another immediate military offensive might not be the best idea […] but Pakistan needs to move toward serious military action.

Bomb North Waziristan NOW! I don’t know what gives this writer the audacity to call the operations in Swat and South Waziristan not serious. Let’s think more about why it has not been such a grand idea so far. Internally displaced people? Civilian casualties from the offensive? Complicity of the army and the intelligence agencies with certain militant groups?

The contradiction in that quote, by the way, is part of a single sentence.

Why is Foreign Policy recruiting inexperienced people to write for them and then calling them ‘experts’? If the comment has to be brief and lacking nuance, I’d rather it came from someone with at least marginal experience in military strategy, war reporting, imperialism 101… heck, actual knowledge of even one of those subjects would produce something infinitely more intelligent.

2.   Let us peruse the opinions suggesting the war expand to North Waziristan a bit more. Here’s what the Daily Times editorial titled “North Waziristan: The New Terrorist Epicentre” had to say:

This is not only necessary for the success of the military’s efforts elsewhere in FATA and Swat, it is now critical generally to ensure the militants are unable to regroup and cause headaches to Pakistan and the world through attacks such as the New York one. Failing to take action against the terrorists holed up in North Waziristan will doubtless bring renewed pressure from the US, and if cooperation is not forthcoming, the millions of dollars of US military and civilian aid may be threatened.

Express Tribune quotes the New York Times which quotes unnamed Pakistani officials who said:

There is a growing consensus that North Waziristan is now the source of the problem, there is a continuing debate in the military over when and how to tackle it. The evolving nature of the militants has made them more dangerous-and made the necessity of going after them in North Waziristan increasingly unavoidable.

Notice how none of these voices give any details besides assuring us that there is a general consensus that North Waziristan is the most ‘dangerous’ place harbouring an undisclosed number of militants and that attacking it now is more ‘critical’ than ever. This is easy to grasp and easier to swallow language found in all of the mainstream media. I’ll have more of that pro-war attitude please.

Alright then, how about some real experts? Ahmed Rashid is as good as any when it comes to a good dose of support for military action. Here’s what he had had to say post-Faisal Shahzad –failed-plot-situation:

North Waziristan is the hub of so many terrorist groups and so much terrorist plotting and planning that neither the CIA nor the ISI seems to have much clue about what is going on there.

And hence, we should, to quote Af-Pak experts, bomb the place into oblivion because one man has allegedly received some training there that, mind you, did not succeed.  A place about which the CIA, the ISI and probably the army have no bloody clue about. It is certain though, that it is definitely dangerous and bursting at the seams.

3.   Lastly, a brief glance at the popular language being employed much closer to home. Here are just three headlines from DAWN’s Sunday paper that say volumes about how the discourse has shaped up among expert columnists:                

But then he adds that the problem is that no one — not the news wires, not the foreign media, not even Pakistani papers or news channels — has direct access to the site of a strike.

Is the argument about there being no protests against drone attacks in the tribal areas valid if there has not been direct access to the site and we are relying on official quotes and on-ground reporters who also only report official quotes since they aren’t exactly allowed to be …on ground?

Can we back up a minute here and seriously rethink about the kind of war narrative we are perpetuating and at who’s whose expense? Where are the dissenting voices? Why have we collectively given up on responsible, accurate, locally produced journalism? Whither saner voices?

-The Underground Man

Tagged , , ,

II. War in a New York minute

Was it the drones or the mortgage? Certainly, Faisal Shahzad has made no claims; all we have to go by is the infuriatingly racist coverage. Faisal Shahzad is a Pakistani-American, but according to the media, he’s a PAKISTANI american, who the media emphasizes, had been a citizen for just one year. Good liberal Pakistanis have gotten into the act throwing a pity party about all that’s wrong with Pakistanis and urging Pakistani-Americans to cooperate. In the rush to assign nationality to acts of terror, they forget that Shahzad was living in the US for over a decade. So was Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood bomber gunman. And Anwar al-Awlaki is a US citizen who was partially raised there. These people are obviously pissed and it’s possible that they’re pissed about the Iraq war, about Afghanistan, about Pakistan, about the attack on Muslims both in their home countries and their marginalization and demonization within the west. But if that is true, then one could almost say that all paths of terror lead through the US, or at least some toxic transnational mix.

Joshua Keating has a good list of contradictory reportage about Faisal Shahzad to highlight what we don’t know. Here’s my addition:

Rachel Maddow says it:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tagged , ,

I. War in a New York minute

While some early reports claimed that it was NYC (attempted) car bomber Faisal Shahzad’s wife and parents or his relatives who were picked up from Karachi where they had been residing, other news now suggests that anywhere between five to eight men were arrested in connection with the Times Square car bomb attempt. One of the men detained in Karachi may be his father-in-law; Shahzad’s parents meanwhile left their Peshawar home once they learned of their son’s arrest. The family was seen leaving their well-to-do home in Hayatabad. Two of the men have reportedly been identified as Tauhid Ahmed and Muhammad Rehan who says he travelled with Shahzad to Peshawar where they stayed for about two weeks in July.Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik claims that no arrests have been made in connection with this case, but some people are being detained for questioning. Rehman also said that no official request has been made by the US, but Pakistan intends to cooperate fully.

Shahzad is the son of  retired air vice-marshal and deputy director general of the civil aviation authority, Baharul Haq. Shahzad’s cousin, Kifayat Ali expressed disbelief about the former’s arrest, according to al-Jazeera

“This is a conspiracy so the [Americans] can bomb more Pashtuns,” Ali said, referring to a major ethnic group in Peshawar and the nearby tribal areas of Pakistan and southwest Afghanistan.

Family members in the family’s village of Mohib Banda, near Pabbi in Nowshera district echoed Ali’s denial about their relative. Another cousin, Sameerul Haq also charged conspiracy and reportedly said Shahzad had gone to the US for the sole purpose of studying. A villager who claimed to be Shahzad’s childhood friend told the News, “I don’t think Faisal had links with any militant group.” Interviews conducted with relatives and those familiar with Shahzad by the AP had similar findings.

Earlier this morning, when I visited North Nazimabad, a relatively quiet, upper middle class neighborhood of Karachi, neighbors were tight-lipped. Sources claim that the detentions of people from Nazimabad were made by military intelligence, not the local police. I was told that officials dressed in civilian clothing came looking for people connected with Faisal Shahzad and enquired about Shahzad in the neighborhood. If true, the involvement of military intelligence in these detentions poses some serious problems: the establishment is well-known for disappearing people. Jeremy Schahill raises concerns on the American side where American intelligence planes may have been used to locate Shahzad. The trouble with this, explains Scahill is that:

If true, that could mean that secretive programs such as “Power Geyser” or “Granite Shadow,” remain in effect. These were the unclassified names for reportedly classified, compartmentalized programs under the Bush administration that allegedly gave US military special forces sweeping authority to operate on US soil in cases involving WMD incidents or terror attacks.

See Scahill’s full post here.

[Post in progress…]

Tagged , , , , ,

Drone attacks: Evaluation of evidence & the making of experts

I just took a look at New America Foundation’s (NAF) report on drone attacks in Pakistan which concludes that the rate of civilian deaths from these flying killer robots (h/t High Clearing) attacks is 32 percent. Is it just me or is the report full of some fairly problematic stuff? The authors of the report Peter Bergen,  CNN’s “national security analyst” and researcher Katherine Tiedemann, compiled data on American drone attacks in Pakistan from “reliable” English language news media. The news organizations that made the cut include the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, CNN, and the BBC. They also used Pakistani English-language media: the Daily Times, Dawn, and the News—as well as those from Geo TV, the largest independent Pakistani television network.

Unstable Data. These are influential names to be sure, but reliable…? Remember the Iraq War? Remember Judy Miller? Remember the financial crisis? It’s no longer possible to simply assert the reliability of major news organizations especially when it comes to reporting on conflict areas. And, the news organizations in Pakistan, while aggressive in pursuing civilian politicians, are known to have a deep aversion to crossing the military which itself seems to be divided on the issue of the flying killer robots. They also have a practice–this is especially true of the English language media–of loosely following the western media line sometimes, even to the point of literally repeating the western media organizations. This often puts Pakistanis in the bizarre position of opening their newspaper and reading news about Pakistan that’s been filtered through, most often, the NYT. See for example this report in a national Pakistani newspaper on Mullah Baradar’s arrest which says: “The New York Times and other US media cited US government officials as saying that US and Pakistani intelligence services arrested Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi.” Or, here’s a story about Pakistan’s nuclear production in the leading English-language daily, Dawn. The headline reads: “Pakistan Planning to Expand Nuclear Production: NYT”. Dawn took the story from NYT which in turn took it from a newswire, Agence France-Presse. And, here’s one by the English-language Daily Times which reproduced for their story, CNN’s entire script for the same story  about a fashion show in Karachi. Yes, the local papers have contacts and know what’s going on, but you’re unlikely to see it in print.

I’d take what these news organizations say with a glassful of salt. Here’s what B&T say about their rationale:

Our research draws only on accounts from reliable media organizations with deep reporting capabilities in Pakistan….As a whole, these news organizations cover the drone strikes as accurately and aggressively as possible, and though we don’t claim our research has captured every single death in every drone strike—particularly those before 2008, when the pace of the program picked up dramatically—it has generated some reliable open-source information about the number of militant leaders killed, a fairly strong estimate of the number of lower-level militants killed, and a reliable sense of the true civilian death rate. (p2, “The Year of the Drone”)

But from where are the news organizations getting their information given that much of the area is off-limits to reporters? A cursory glance at some of the articles B&T cite for their evidence shows a pretty common formula in the news reports. The beginning of the article usually says something like so: X number of militants were killed , a security official said. These security officials are, of course, nearly always anonymous, that is, they cannot be held accountable. We don’t know whether these are local folk or Army folk or, for that matter, the ISI. We know nothing about them, their interests, their position and thus can make no judgment about their claims. Now, while the word “alleged”–as in alleged militant–appears to have disappeared from the lexicon of said media organizations when it comes to attacks by flying killer robots on Pakistan, this is effectively how the news report ought to be read because it’s telling you: This is what the anonymous official said, but hey, we don’t know because there are no eyewitness accounts nor is it verified by an independent body. In fact, it’s usually only supported by another one or two anonymous “security” or “administrative” officials.

Secondly, B&T can claim that they militate against error by citing multiple news sources, but that simply shows a deep ignorance about how reporting is done in remote areas of Pakistan, something they might’ve looked into before proceeding with their first grade arithmetic. Despite the multiple news media organizations cited, it’s highly likely that the stringers who get the information are speaking to the same anonymous source(s). It’s common for reporters/stringers to try and inculcate relationships with higher-ups to get information, and there are usually a few point people within bureaucratic institutions like the police who get called upon by journalists. So, it’s likely that it’s the same people giving information to several news organizations. All multiple citing does in this case then is to produce an echo chamber of the same official line, a line spoken by some anonymous official.

Generally speaking, there are fairly few stringers covering large swaths of Fata. These stringers often end up relying on personal relations in small villages and towns for their information. They are not usually able to ascertain the veracity of the figures given by officials. And, because nobody wants to get nailed, reporters generally arrive at some loose consensus about how many people were killed. (This is common practice and happens in other reporting too.) As a general rule, you might think of reporters and stringers as a kind of reporting tribe with a shared culture and interests. In the absence of statistics from eyewitnesses or on-the-scene accounts, media folk generally cleave close to the official account of what happened and who was killed. They are also more likely to stick to the “official” figures because of officialdom’s claims to authority. (Much of this is not particular to Pakistan either.) So, for a host of reasons, the reporting capabilities actually aren’t that deep, contra B&T’s claim. One of NAF’s own ‘experts’ made the same observation during a recent event co-sponsored by NAF, and Foreign Policy, where policy analyst Hassan Abbas said this (click on the icon to see relevant video):

The people of the region, especially Fata and NWFP will be more convinced about the effectiveness of US policy especially in terms of the drone attacks when they will routinely know who is the person killed…We often hear after the event that no 3 of Taliban or al Qaeda was killed and that’s often the first time we’re hearing the names of those people. There is a lot of controversy. Who is the neutral body which is giving a judgment?…So, I’m not ready to buy what the person who is shooting is saying or the person who are the parties [sic] related to that which have interest on the ground. Any third party will tell us out of 10 hits how many are working. I hope it is working. i hope Ayman al Zawahiri or Osama bin Laden are hit by these drone attacks, but that has not happened yet. And, related to this, then there is a political fallout.

I think a case was made belatedly that there are much less civilian casualties than projected in the media and because of that –we must also understand that in Fata, in that area, there’s no credible reporting. They have very few journalists on the ground. It is often from telephone from one person. You’ll not get a chance to really corroborate that story, but based on what we know from some of the credible journalists who get a chance to go there and come back –and then you have to decipher also from within the military briefings also and the civilian statements what the reality is: The people are really distressed. In that kind of –which I’d mentioned has a psychological impact–in that distress, I doubt if they are thinking in any positive terms about US or the US presence in Afghanistan or the Pakistan military’s operations in those area….(emphasis mine)

Now, on one hand, unnamed officials are calling nearly everyone who dies a militant; on the other hand Pakistani authorities have claimed that nearly 700 civilians died in 2009 in a separate study which B&T view skeptically. So, who are we to believe? Are these the same officials playing a double-game? More to the point for this post: why do B&T evince such healthy skepticism for one set of official figures but seem to swallow the other set once they’ve been printed up by “reliable” media organizations who carried out no independent verification? B&T reproduce opinion as fact by counting every unverified death as a militant simply because some unnamed official said so. You can’t do that and claim you have a reliable estimate of militant v. civilian deaths. Well, you can and they do, but they’re wrong.

Little by little, the reporting process has been building an archive written by the powerful that is now being accessed by think tanks to support official American policy. This isn’t an indictment of stringers who work for scandalously little pay especially when compared to the bloated bungalows of their English-speaking, superiors in Islamabad, but it is a critique of B&T’s analysis. The instability of the evidence should have been a key point of discussion. It’s also kind of basic social science. That it’s never thought out in the report nor been questioned since is a testament to a kind of control, following Bourdieu, of the social cognitive map. Reports like NAF’s study and think tanks whose work largely seems to involve attaching apparently objective numbers to official positions in order to lend them the air of disinterested truth reproduce this kind of social control. This is the role of experts: as arbiters of legitimate knowledge. They decide who counts and who doesn’t.

Militants, Civilians and Assumptions. What’s the definition of a militant for B&T? We never get one in this report. It appears to be a bit like pornography: You know it when you see it. This is the closest they get to clarifying it for us:

One challenge in producing an accurate count is that it is often not possible to differentiate precisely between militants and civilians in these circumstances, as militants live among the population and don’t wear uniforms. For instance, when Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a drone last August, one of his wives and his father-in-law died in the strike as well. (p3)

Let’s parse this a bit. Yes, it’s true that militants don’t wear uniforms and do live among the population. But then, so do soldiers much of the time. Does that justify a bombing say in the NYC subway or Fort Dix in NJ because hell, American soldiers do live there among the population. (To be clear: it doesn’t.) And in the Mehsud example that they provide, they’ve pretty clearly distinguished here between Mehsud, his wives and his father-in-law. In other words, this is not an example of inability to distinguish between Mehsud and his family members. It’s rather an example of not bothering to distinguish: The bomb struck his home. They intended to strike his home. (Unlike American soldiers, locals don’t have the luxury of fighting in other people’s countries where the collateral damage is borne by others’ families.) The problem now actually appears to be as follows: should the family members of of known Taliban et al be considered militants by dint of their association? And that gets to an underlying tendency in current imperial thought on this subject. A soldier is a soldier because of what he does. The uniform signifies his/ her duty or job. S/he sheds it as lightly as s/he does his/ her clothes. But a militant is not defined by what he does. It’s who he is. A soldier is a job; a militant is an ideology and that’s why it’s impossible to distinguish between Mehsud the Militant and his family who may have believed his ideology in their hearts even if they never picked up a gun. And that’s why bombing a home is perfectly ok. In fact, in several of the accounts, people were apparently killed while they were in cars or homes.

What is also striking in the report is how studiously–and ideologically–the authors maintain a separation between the violence perpetrated by killer robots and the violence perpetrated by militants. For example, take this:

Despite the sharp rise in drone strikes over the past year and a half, Afghanistan and Pakistan still face extraordinary levels of terrorist violence. In 2009, there were a record 87 suicide attacks in Pakistan, which killed around 1,300 people, 1,155 of them civilians. This was up from 63 suicide bombings the previous year (and only nine in 2006). Pakistani Taliban militants mounted a fierce campaign of attacks against military, government, and civilian targets throughout the fall after Pakistani ground operations in South Waziristan began in mid-October. (p4)

Why does this paragraph begin with “despite” especially since it notes that the figures for suicide attacks have gone up rather than down concomittant to the increase in American attacks? It could just as well make sense to write this paragraph as follows:

Despite [Because of] the sharp rise in drone strikes over the past year and a half, Afghanistan and Pakistan still face extraordinary levels of terrorist violence. In 2009, there were a record 87 suicide attacks in Pakistan, which killed around 1,300 people, 1,155 of them civilians. This was up from 63 suicide bombings the previous year (and only nine in 2006). Pakistani Taliban militants mounted a fierce campaign of attacks against military, government, and civilian targets throughout the fall after Pakistani ground operations in South Waziristan began in mid-October.

The “despite” functions as an ideological marker. Indeed, towards the end of their study, the authors themselves note:

Third, although the drone strikes have disrupted militant operations, their unpopularity with the Pakistani public and their value as a recruiting tool for extremist groups may have ultimately increased the appeal of the Taliban and al Qaeda, undermining the Pakistani state. This is more disturbing than almost anything that could happen in Afghanistan, given that Pakistan has dozens of nuclear weapons and about six times the population. (emphasis mine) (p5)

Well, that’s pretty damning and gets to a critical issue regarding the effectiveness of death-by-killer-robot which is the subject of their study. If the attacks are creating more militants, then um, isn’t that, like, a major problem or something? The authors, however, leave it at that. Part of the reason that there’s no follow-through on this issue of action and reaction is because they have to get to their conclusion (guess what it is!). But, it’s also because, as per my earlier point, a militant is what you are; there is no action and reaction because what the militant does is guided by his ideology or by a charismatic leader so warranting “leadership decapitation” (literally. see NAF’s Sameer Lalwani for this argument) or by his Islam or by his madness but whatever it is, it’s utterly divorced from anything the Empire is doing. (To be clear: I do not hold the position that the Taliban et al are anti-imperialists. I’m only discussing issues of causality here.) Marked as Muslim, (brown) and enraged, ‘the militant’ signifies the Orientalist racisms of western analysts. An angry Muslim is indistinguishable from a militant. They disappear into each other, the Muslim and the Militant. This Muslim-Militant is locked in its own world outside the history of the west. For an unsophisticated but refreshingly blunt version of this, read Bernard Lewis. And so, following suit, despite B&T’s concern for civilian deaths–they write “Trying to ascertain the real civilian death rate from the drone strikes is important both as a moral matter and as a matter of international law which prohibits indiscriminate attacks against civilians”–the categories in their data are divided as follows:

  1. al Qaeda/Taliban leaders killed
  2. al Qaeda/ Taliban killed (what they describe as “low level militants”)
  3. Others

Whither the civilian? There aren’t any because they are finally indistinguishable and inseparable. “Others” is not a legal category, but it is a telling moral one. Here, then is the apropos conclusion:

Despite the controversy, drone strikes are likely to remain a critical tool for the United States to disrupt al Qaeda and Taliban operations and leadership structures. Though these strikes consistently kill Pakistani civilians, which angers the population, and prompt revenge attacks from the militants, Pakistani and U.S. strategic interests have never been more closely aligned against the militants than they are today….

The drone attacks in the tribal regions seem to remain the only viable option for the United States to take on the militants based there who threaten the lives of Afghans, Pakistanis, and Westerners alike. (p6)

But, dear Reader, you already knew this was where they had to end up, didn’t you?

Meanwhile, having successfully laundered unnamed official opinion into a bright white fact, B&T can now reproduce their work as “expert knowledge” in an op-ed in the NYT today where they claim that despite the secrecy of the flying killer robot program, they’ve been able to get a “reliable” civilian casualty count. They then cite their civilian casualty rate for 2009 alone (29 percent) which is lower than the all time casualty rate that tops their report (32 percent). The 2009 figure is then seconded by an even lower estimate given by a US official. The Pakistani study is nowhere to be found because ultimately, in the context of current power-relations, it appears less authoritative and less truthful than what the American truthmakers produce.  Truth, as Foucault noted, is an “effect” produced by power-relations.

And every time a flying killer robot attacks, an expert is born.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Constitutional changes; Pak Army kills Pakistanis

OrakzaiSix people were killed in the earliest fall-out from the 18th Amendment now making its way through Pakistan’s Parliament. The bill, which makes major changes to the constitution sparked protests among ethnic Hazara for one of its amendments: changing the name of Pakistan’s North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) –so named by British Lord Curzon in 1901 when he formed the province–to the Kyber Pakhtunkwa province after the dominant ethnic Pashtun majority there.

Even as the country is poised for significant changes, Pakistan’s Army killed literally hundreds this last week. Approximately 60 civilians were killed when Pakistani fighter jets dropped bombs in Khyber Agency in Fata. The initial attack was on Hameed Gul’s house and it killed 3 children and 2 women. This is what happened next:

“After 10 minutes of the bombardment when the villagers and labourers working on nearby water channel approached the house to retrieve the bodies, the fighter jets again bombed the house killing and injuring more than 150 people,” Sadiq Khan, an injured and eyewitness, told this scribe in the Civil Hospital Jamrud.

In case you find the second bombing confusing, please note that the same tactic was seen in the leaked Wikileaks video of American soldiers firing on Iraqis followed by a second round of killing when a van showed up to help the injured. And, it’s often used by Israelis in occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Another 54 people were killed in Orakzai which the Army claims were militants.

Meanwhile the 18th Amendment abolishes changes made by Paksitani autocrats over the years to accrue greater powers to the President. The amendment devolves greater authority to the provinces, reserves a few seats for non-Muslim members in the Senate and makes it a crime for the High Court to validate acts that abrogate the Constitution in the future. These changes come roughly a year after the success of the lawyers’ movement and David Kilcullen’s pronouncements that Pakistan had only six months left to survive.

Tagged , , ,

NYT’s reporting puzzles

Oh, NYT, why must you tempt me with your strange tales of stranger lands.

1) PALESTINE. Ethan Bronner’s article which was the lead story this morning, “Palestinians Try a Less Violent Path to Resistance” is an example of a lie reproduced as news. Putting the latest peaceful Palestinian boycott campaign in faux context, Bronner writes, “The new approach still remains small scale while American-led efforts to revive peace talks are stalled.” He  falsely continues to imply throughout the rest of the article that noviolence is “limited” or alien to Palestinian soil:

Nonviolence has never caught on here, and Israel’s military says the new approach is hardly nonviolent. But the current set of campaigns is trying to incorporate peaceful pressure in limited ways.

Except that well, nonviolence–whilst perhaps a novel idea to a reporter whose son serves in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF)–is nothing new for the Palestinians. The 1980s intifada was a deeply civil society based rebellion with Palestinian labour unions, businessmen and students involved in mass forms of nonviolent protest. Although initially uncoordinated, an ad hoc leadership committee called the Unfied National Leadership of the Uprising (UNLU) soon rose up increasing its numbers with workers who joined as the IDF attacked Palestinian businesses. The bourgeoisie and Palestinian businessmen, increasingly burdened by the new taxes Israel was imposing, followed through with commercial strikes and non-payment of taxes. Further, steel_puzzle_sphere_1Ariel Sharon’s incendiary move to shift his home to Jerusalem sparked “the shopkeepers war”, a cat and mouse game where the IDF repeatedly forced shopkeepers to open their shops and they in turn repeatedly went on strike. There was stone throwing by youth (if you can call that violent when they’re throwing them at tanks and soldiers) too and murders of alleged collaborators, but the bulk of the population took part in mass civil disobedience and other forms of nonviolent protest. That was the Palestinian intifada in the 1980s, and it attests to the strength and resilience of Palestinian civil society. The effects of that movement dissipated because of the Oslo Accords which circumvented the successes of the intifada rather than build upon them.

Contrast that form of resistance with the occupying army. Raphael Eitan, then Israel’s chief of staff, said “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.” Menachim Begin, who would later win the Nobel peace prize with Arafat (a venerable tradition which Obama has rightly joined) referred to Palestinians as “beasts walking on two legs”.

By contrast, check out this excellent piece by friend and reporter Don Duncan on forms of Palestinian resistance. See examples of what Don’s talking about here and there.

And for the love of god, Bronner, get a clue.

2) PAKISTAN. Sabrina Tavernise lends that special Alice-in-a-wonderland feel to her reporting on a potentially historic amendment that is making its way through the Pakistani parliament right now. If passed, it would strip the President of powers that the position has accrued over the years due to revisions to the constitution by unaccountable politicians and dictators. Tavernise is quick to manipulate the story about a significant positive political change in Pakistan into the “chaos theory” narrative the western media has reserved for Pakistan. She writes:

On paper, the changes restore the country’s democracy to its original form — a parliamentary system run by a prime minister — and undo the accumulated powers that the country’s military autocrats had vested in the presidency. (emphasis mine.)

But this is Pakistan — a chaotic, 62-year-old country, where no elected government has ever lasted a full term and the rule of law is often up for grabs — and it is far from certain that in practice the new laws will be respected. (emphasis mine.)

Down the hole, Alice goes. This is Wonderland and things don’t ever change here. Never ever ever. Never ever? Not ever. Get it?

Last year, Tavernise brought us this lovely liner regnant with Orientalism: “On a spring night in Lahore, I came face to face with all that is puzzling about Pakistan.” Wow, where? Was it at the intersection of Ignorance and Hubris? Try and get off that. It’s really overcrowded.

3) WIKILEAKS. Two days ago, Glenn Greenwald caught the NYT in a mistake, and now the paper appears to be at it again trying to damn the investigative website Wikileaks. Greenwald then noted that reporter “Elisabeth Bumiller strongly implies that WikiLeaks failed to release the full video and instead selectively edited it.” The mistake found its way into a Weekly Standard opinion piece which denounced the website for failing to release the full video. Unfortunately, for the Standard, Wikileaks had released the entire video from the start. The NYT corrected its mistake online without ever acknowledging that it had made one. The Standard‘s Bill Roggio also corrected his mistake and acknowledged it explicitly online. All that was two days ago. Now today, NYT‘s article on Wikileaks “Iraq Video Brings Notice to a Web Site“, again implies bad practise by Wikileaks:

The Web site also posted a 17-minute edited version, which proved to be much more widely viewed on YouTube than the full version. Critics contend that the shorter video was misleading because it did not make clear that the attacks took place amid clashes in the neighborhood and that one of the men was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade.

But, Wikileaks posted the entire unedited video and has done so from the start. That’s something that media organizations rarely do, if ever. When’s the last time you saw an unedited video at CNN or unedited notes for an article at NYT? Second, what unnamed critics is the NYT referring to here? The Weekly Standard already corrected its mistake, and anyone else who has criticized the shorter version of the video has only been able to do so precisely because the full-version is also available. It’s just a bizarre paragraph coming as it does on the heels of the earlier Bumiller article. The NYT, btw, is absent from Wikileaks list of its supporters which does include the LA Times, Hearst Corporation, Gannett (publishers of USA Today), the Associated Press, among other journalistic bodies.

4) PAKISTAN. The Lede blog posted live video footage of the bomb blasts at the US Consulate in Peshawar (h/t jdw) and then noted:

Readers who watch the footage from Pakistani television above may notice one sign of how routine bombings have become in the country. At one stage, as images of the latest attack were broadcast, the crawl at the bottom of the screen gave updates on a celebrity drama, the planned marriage of a Pakistani cricket star, Shoaib Malik, to an Indian tennis player, Sania Mirza.

When a commenter called out the blog’s writer, Robert Mackey on his spurious concluson based on news tickers which are equally random everywhere else, he responded saying, “I explained in the post what the point of the the trivial news in the crawl seemed to be to me. I made no statement that this sort of trivia was unique to Pakistan and not found in most if not all other countries.” Even to Mackey his response must sound lame; it’s certainly not an answer.

Here’s a snapshot of CNN vs. al-Jazeera on the day the Wikileaks video was posted. Pots and kettles. Enough said.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Jeans, Candy and Nationalism

1940s Mars Bar Vitnage Illustration Advertisement CandyToday, I happened to re-read a bit of Partha Chatterjee’s critique of liberal and conservative (and Marxist -see Benedict Anderson) theories of nationalism, and it reminded me of this op-ed recently published in the International Herald Tribune (IHT) about modernity in Pakistan. Note: I do agree with the author about the need to “let Pakistan make its own progress”, but dammit, the route she takes to get there, really sucks and it’s dangerous. Here’s why. Chatterjee first.

Chatterjee argues that both conservative and liberal theories of nationalism fundamentally share the same Enlightenment-era beliefs about Rationality and Progress. The main debate between them then is whether non-Europeans have the ability to grasp these notions, to in effect, become ‘civilised.’ The conservatives say “no”: non-Europeans are mired in “traditional loyalties” masquerading as modern political organisations. That’s why nationalisms in the post-colonial world are such bloodthirsty, regressive exercises. The liberals say “yes”: give them time and these ‘backward’ features will disappear, modernisation will take hold and

once the conditions that are detrimental to progress are removed there is no reason why they should not also proceed to approximate the values that have made the West what it is today. But neither side can pose the problem in a form in which the question can be asked: why is it that non-European colonial countries have no historical alternative but to try to approximate the given attributes of modernity when that very process of approximation means their continued subjection under a world order which only sets their tasks for them and over which they have no control? [1]

Modernity is inscribed as European modernity, and even that becomes a caricature of itself in much impressionistic reportage. So, back to the article. What are Ms. Naviwala’s signs of Pakistani modernity? Back when she moved her family to Pakistan in the 1990s and lived there for a maximum of 6 years, there were  “shootings in mosques, kidnappings, violent break-ins and streetside executions if you belonged to the wrong ethnic group.” It was bad, really really bad:

Worse than the violence, for a Pakistani-American child, was that Pakistan was boring. As far as I am concerned, Pizza Hut was the only good thing that happened to Pakistan in those years. Prior to that, there was no American fast food in Karachi, let alone malls or highways. You couldn’t even find a decent candy bar.

But now, well now, on her recent trip to Karachi, Naviwala noticed:

I never imagined that I would see Pakistan the way I saw it this summer, after a mere 14 years. Karachi today looks like any major, cosmopolitan city — movie theaters, restaurants, and cafés full of boys and girls smoking, in jeans, mingling together.

More women are finishing college and getting jobs, and they have traded traditional baggy shalwars for trousers and capris. The city has been aggressively transformed by a mayor so impressively capable that he seems misplaced in a culture of corrupt politicians and broken bureaucracies.

This is Naviwala’s laundry list of modernity: American fast food, malls, highways (to get to the malls), Pizza Hut, movie theatres, restaurants, smoking, jeans, and capris. First, I’d advise Naviwala to step off posh Zamzama Blvd and have a look around the rest of the city. Second, what’s the point here exactly? That if Pakistanis didn’t zip over to malls dressed in jeans and engorge themselves on Pizza Hut, then what…Pakistanis should be bombed and killed? Because that’s what she’s arguing: Pakistan is becoming modern–that is, it’s a mini-America–so don’t bomb it. WTF? This is a peculiarly liberal style of argument that Uday Mehta also discussed in Liberalism and Empire. Rather than being external to liberal thought, empire can be thought out within the liberal paradigm. (Mehta discusses J.S. Mills.) In Naviwala’s statements, there’s more than a little racism, unintentional though it may be, because Pakistanis are only pardoned on account of them being like us, her liberal readers who so gleefully lap up these slipshod arguments that feed American and European nationalisms by fortifying their sense of their imagined communities. This is an op-ed, but much ‘objective’ reporting looks the same, teasing out symbols. That’s what description is. It’s not just filler space, but ways to get the reader–liberal, objective–cues as to how to read a story. And often, that reading–when it comes to reporting politics in the Muslim world or frankly anything in the Muslim world–has to do with inscribing national ideologies into apparently objective stories.

Third, what interests me is that what’s on offer here is consumption packaged as modernity. Fourth, women, or at least their bodies, play a special role here. Naviwala mentions capris; elsewhere she mentions burqas and “traditional dress”, a perfect collusion between liberal feminism and capitalism. Take a look at this if in doubt.

And in case you don’t think that’s what she’s arguing, this is what she says of Afghanistan:

Pakistan is a different story from Afghanistan — it is far more developed and modern. Afghans may not have the ability to lead themselves out of this mess, but Pakistanis do.

Fuck those backward, un-malled, un-jeaned mofos. Signs of us/modernity are lacking in Afghanistan. That’s why, after all, Afghanistan is the good war. Culture–that big word–is just another  tool of war. And now, a “cultural unit” has been set up among British troops in Afghanistan to understand the locals better. According to Air Vice-Marshal Andy Pulford, assistant chief of the defence staff responsible for operations,

The unit “will help improve the military understanding and appreciation of the region, its people and how to do business there”

Presumably the business of how to kill them.

1. Partha Chatterjee. Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World. University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

Tagged , , ,